My second farewell to Julian Koenig. This time it's for real


By Dave Birss | Contributor

June 20, 2014 | 4 min read

Every industry has its trailblazers; the icons who change an industry and inspire a generation of imitators. For guitarists, it's Jimi Hendrix. For painters, it's Picasso. For copywriters like me, it's Julian Koenig. His early Volkswagen ads were a shining beacon of excellence, even though I started in the industry more than 30 years after he penned them.

The inspirational Julian Koenig

As a young creative in Glasgow, I remember stealing a dusty copy of 'Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?' from my first agency. I devoured it like a true fanboy, savouring Julian's writing – and the writing of all those who attempted to meet the standard he'd set. The book was promptly stolen from me at my next agency. And I hope it inspired the next thief as much as it inspired me.

Back then, Julian was a hero. He was from another time and another country. I never thought I'd have the chance to speak to him. But last November I did. And I was possibly the last person to interview him about his life in advertising. I feel immensely grateful for that.

He was everything I could ever have hoped for. He was humble, soft spoken and as interested in me as I was in him. He played down his role in the advertising revolution and told me that he hadn't really achieved much in his career.

But he most certainly had.

As well as being the writer of the most famous ads in history, he was also a founder of the first ever ad agency to go public. And he was involved in the creation of Earth Day, which he named because the date it fell on just happened to be his birthday.

Sadly, he was written out of many of his achievements by a former business partner who allegedly took credit for them instead. I know this troubled him to the end.

Peculiarly, this is the second obituary I've written for Julian. The first one was an embarrassing mistake sparked by some misinformation online. But that mortifying incident is what led to me speaking to Julian and getting to ask many of the questions I'd always had. Like what it was like to work at DDB, who had inspired him as a copywriter and was he really the guy who'd invented thumb wars? (The answer to that last question is yes!)

This is the second legend the advertising industry has lost in the space of a month. Just like Julian, David Abbott had penned his fair share of Volkswagen ads and learnt much of his craft under the guidance of Bill Bernbach. These men will continue to cast a long shadow on our industry for many years to come.

So this is the second and final time I'm saying farewell to the great man. And sadly this time, I don't appear to be mistaken. Goodbye Julian. Thank you for writing 'Think Small'. It helped me and many others to think bigger than we would have without it.

Julian Koenig

1921 – 2014

Dave Birss is The Drum's editor-at-large. Read in full his interview with Julian Koenig: 'I just wrote some ads'


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